The big chill

Russell Wangersky
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We occasionally do print anonymous letters in this newspaper, but very rarely. Primarily, we withhold names to protect the identity of minors or to respect court restrictions on identifying victims or witnesses. When we do, we publish the letters with a clear knowledge of who the authors are and why they can’t be identified.

Friday, a letter came in where the writer said “I would like to publish the attached as a letter to the editor but can't do it under my name.”

Asked for the reasons for requesting anonymity, the writer mentioned concerns about government retribution against family members.

I’m including the whole letter, primarily to show that there’s nothing in it that should cause anyone pause: it’s a personal view of a public issue — the Muskrat Falls development — and one that would normally be published, provided someone put their name to it.

Here it is in its entirety:

Our provincial government has set themselves up as proponent, developer and regulator, or judge, jury and executioner, for this project, and any time that happens, it’s worth looking at what’s behind the rush they seem to be in to get it done.

I don’t have any concerns about the viability of the project. After all, they (our provincial government) will raise the money on our backs and, because they also are the regulator, will determine how much it will cost us each month to pay off the loans and provide the rate of return (determined by them) to Nalcor. So, you see, no matter how much it costs to do the project or what the operating costs are, we (you and I) will foot the initial bill and we will then pay it off each month when we pay our hydro bill.

I also don’t have any issue with the technical feasibility of the project. I have every confidence in the engineers at Nalcor when they say we can do this.

“Here’s the rub; because they (our provincial government) have set themselves up in advance to make this project happen, they have taken great pains to make sure any issues or roadblocks are minimized or eliminated before they come up. For example, they have limited the options being considered to provide for our future energy needs to those that will reflect favourably on the one they have chosen. Why?

I will confess that, even after all of the debate and dialogue in the media, I am not convinced Muskrat Falls is the right solution for our future energy needs, but I am not convinced that it is not either.

I support former premier Brian Peckford’s view that our PUB simply does not have the expertise or mandate necessary to do a proper review of this project and we do need to refer this whole ball of wax to an independent panel of experts in the field to get a thorough and objective analysis done of all of the options for providing our future energy needs.

In the meantime, I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid we are being fed up to this point … it just doesn’t smell right.

In the great scheme of things, that’s a measured, relatively non-offensive letter on a major public issue, one that speaks to the need to have more analysis.

The perception the letter-writer has, though, is clearly that reasoned debate is not without clearly perceived consequences in this province. Would there be retribution? I honestly don’t know. But there clearly should be a discussion about the fact that such a fear exists, if nothing else.

The provincial government admittedly has a long reach here: many are employed by it or have family members employed by it. Many businesses depend on the provincial government for some or even most of their business.

The fear of retribution is not new: whether it’s a reality or not is hard to know for sure. I know businessmen I’ve talked to in the province — and I’ve said this before — who are willing to talk a lot about Muskrat Falls in private, but who will never speak publicly.

And there have been cases where the province has removed people from positions for making comments the government didn’t approve of.

Federally, it’s pretty clear that the atmosphere exists for witch hunts. Just last week, the Toronto Star reported that National Defence Minister Peter MacKay showed no compunction about using the full powers of his department to hunt down dirt on his political opponents.

You would hope that, if people feel they’ve been singled out for their political beliefs or their legitimate views on public issues, they’d make their treatment public, so that we could decide whether that behaviour is politically acceptable.

We should not have to live in fear of our own governments.


Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. Email:

Organizations: Toronto Star, National Defence

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Recent comments

  • Craig Westcott
    February 29, 2012 - 12:40

    Russell, it's ironic that you broached this subject on the same day that Fisheries Minister Darrin King severed funding to the FFAW because "the FFAW are always going to have a criticism to be lobbied at government." The use or withholding of public resources, namely taxpayers' dollars, based on whether some one or group has criticized the government is clearly unethical and, frankly, should be illegal. There is a cuture of fear in this province. Ask anyone who has happened to find himself on the other side of the provincial government's "sanctioned view" in the last nine years. It's extremely disappointing that our fellow Newfoundlanders do not stand up against it. Democracy is a fragile thing. It has always has tenous roots on this island. The occasional lack of it here, I believe, is one of the great contributing factors towards our economic and political backwardness and our failure to capitalize on the great natural resources we are lucky enough to own. If you're afraid to hold a view contrary to the received wisdom of government you're probably also too timid to stomach calculated business risks. As for anonymous comments, I am against them, particularly on news sites and blogs. They encourage the gutless fringe and add nothing positive to a debate. I hope The Telegram reconsiders its policy and enforces the same standards for its website comments as it does letters to the editor in the print edition. It would raise the tone and substance of the discussion. All the very best, Craig Westcott Editor The Business Post

  • Maurice Rogers
    February 29, 2012 - 10:30

    The problem with being anonymous is that readers can question the credibility of the writer such that the letter or post carries little weight and are easily dismissed.

  • Puck
    February 29, 2012 - 08:27

    Hey guys, ever read a book that you liked? or Disliked? Did it matter if the Author was using a pen name? Stick to the points and Don't give pen names a bad name. And omitt name's like john smith from your minds because with all their shallow opinions, well, You can kinda think of a better name for them, more on the lines of what they really are.

  • Sheldon Walsh
    February 28, 2012 - 19:14

    8:30 in the night, several articles about the great project, and no John Smith? I was starting to get worried but I checked CBC and he's been pretty active over there today, so he's OK folks.

  • Herb Morrison
    February 28, 2012 - 17:39

    In this particular instance, the writer's fear of retribution justifies the writer's desire to remain anonymous. There definitely are other legiitmate reasons why a person could seek the protection of anonymity. To borrow an old saying, persons or groups who make disparaging, degrading, judgemental remarks about others, while hiding behind anonymity hiding behind a pseudonym, in order to escape accountability for their posts, don't have the guts God put in a caplin.

  • Mark
    February 28, 2012 - 09:50

    ''We should not have to live in fear of our own governments'' Too late. With a few notable interruptions it has been that way in this province for as long as anyone can remember. The whole of Newfoundland society, from its entrepreneurs to its charitable organizations to its arts community to its municipal governments, professional associations and on and on has become so chronically dependent on the discretionary intervention of the provincial government that there's precious little reason for legislative oversight, and no upside to speaking up or asking questions anywhere else. I'm too young to remember what it was like under Joey, but I can't imagine it was ever as bad as it has become.

  • Geoff Meeker
    February 28, 2012 - 08:18

    Well said, Russell. This issue needs a full public airing. And to the John Smiths of the world, who will weigh in anonymously to attack Russell and defend their "side", I have one question: WHY don't you sign your name? What are you afraid of? Meanwhile, if one is looking for evidence of the culture of fear associated with speaking out, one need only look at the removal of the air ambulance from St. Anthony. During a private meeting with town representatives, one of the air ambulance staff spoke up to make a point, but was promptly shut down by the minister, who cautioned him that his job was in peril. And this was a private meeting! So the employee got the hint, and went quiet. In other words, informed advice is not welcome if it contradicts the party line. Is it any wonder we will never have whistle-blower legislation?

    • El
      February 28, 2012 - 15:43

      Geoff, the editor has already indicated why the writer of the letter didn't want his/her name attached to his/her points of view. FEAR OF RETRO-FRIGGIN'-BUTION! I don't get it why you and others refer to anononymour posters as "gutless" when you know bloody well there's a price to pay for "coming out". The writer's logic as well as the editor make perfect sense to me.

    • MBC
      February 28, 2012 - 16:21

      Jeff you should be concerned with the facts and valid opinions written and not the name of the author. Anyone being paid for an article should then offer his or her name, in my opinion. What difference would it mean to you if Joe BIll or Dannny Bill wrote a letter or article?

    • MBC
      February 28, 2012 - 16:22

      Jeff you should be concerned with the facts and valid opinions written and not the name of the author. Anyone being paid for an article should then offer his or her name, in my opinion. What difference would it mean to you if Joe BIll or Dannny Bill wrote a letter or article?